Why I don't use (insert name of closed-source program here)

Yes, it is supposed to say "(insert name ..."), because I use this page for a variety of closed-source programs, including Skype, VMware, and more.

Think about owning and operating a car today. You can use your car on any road (you occasionally have to pay tolls for certain bridges or higways). You can get your car fixed at the dealer from the company you bought it, but also from any corner service station, or you can fix it yourself if you are so inclined and have the tools.

Now imagine the "closed source car". You buy it from a MicroCar Incorporated dealer. When you get it home and want to show your tech-savvy friends its cool new engine, you open the hood and find the engine is totally encased in a large black box that is held tight around it. You can't open the box to see how the engine works or what parts are used in its construction. You can't fix it anywhere but at MicroCar dealers. You can't fix it yourself. When you try to open the black box, a siren goes off and an electonic voice starts playing threatening sounds about copyright, the DMCA, and massive use of the force of the state to prevent you from repairing or even understanding what you thought was your property.

The next shock comes when you go to buy gas. Your new MicroCar has a special fuel-filling system such that, even though it uses "Regular" 87-octane like you can buy at any corner store, you can't buy it there, but only at "MicroCar Partner Sites", where you pay a 30% price premium. When you try to adapt it, that good old siren goes off, the voice this time warning you about any attempts at what it calls "reverse engineering".

I could go on, and I probably will at some point. But you get the idea.

Welcome to the world of closed-source cars, err, software.

What are the alternatives for the operating system? There are many good free operating systems that run on most modern computers, including two that I use, OpenBSD and Linux. OpenBSD has a really good reputation for security, and I'm not saying that just because I help develop it, nor because I run it on almost all my computer systems. OpenBSD is also part of a family of about half a dozen BSD systems; others that are well known include FreeBSD and Apple's Mac OS X. Linux is better known than BSD (due to historical accident) and more widely used, so a little easier to use for novices. Linux is also the operating system inside Android; every Android phone in the world is a tiny Linux computer! And most of Android itself is also open source, courtesy of the Android Open Source Project.

All these "freeware operating systems" provide roughly the same set of programs. There are several major "user interface" packages, incluing KDE, GNOME xfce, and more, most of which provide a user interface that is "close enough" to that of a certain large vendor from Redmond, Washington (who in turn borrowed most of their user interface from Apple, HP, Sun, and others, who in turn got the basic building blocks from Xerox PARC. They all steal from the best, at least).

So what if you're not ready to take the plunge all the way, but just want to get your feet wet with open source software, running under Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X?

There is lots of information on the web about open source; this is just a sampler.

Ian F. Darwin